Perspectives on Friendship

How do we become friends with certain people over others? It is a common intuition that we become friends with those who are similar to us. However, the answer is not so clear cut. Here are a few perspectives on the laws of attraction: friendship edition.

Evolutionary biologists explain friendship as reciprocal altruism. This behavior, also known as “tit for tat,” occurs when an organism temporarily reduces its fitness in order to increase another organism’s fitness with the hope that the other will do the same favor in return in the future. Essentially, it is the idea of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

Psychologists Peter DeScioli and Robert Kurzban, however, view friendships as more of a strategic, political mechanism for people to maintain a support system as protection against any potential future conflicts. They suggest that friendships can also have their own agendas.

Some psychologists agree that reciprocity is key, but also self-disclosure. One person would disclose information and then “tests” to see if the other reciprocates. After a friendship is established through these means, intimacy then binds friends together. Social psychologists Carolyn Weisz and Lisa F. Wood claim that social identity support is a primary factor by which we become best friends with someone. So it’s not necessarily who they are that we love our friends, but by how they support who we are.

Anthropologists view friendship as an acquired status that is based on sharing. Friends share their problems, plans and thoughts. Notions of friendships are highly variable across cultures and societies. Even within one society, the meaning of friendship can vary based on sex, age, social status as well as the context of the friendship (ie, school, work, neighborhood).

Philosophers note various justifications for the value of friendship. On the individual level, friendship is instrumentally good and may be valuable for its own sake. However, the problem of fungibility (being easily replaced) arises when we think about what justifies me being friends with one person over another. On the social level, perhaps friendship promotes the general good of society.

Regardless of how we become friends with certain people, the fact of the matter is that friendship plays an important role in promoting good well-being and happiness. Research shows that people with strong friendships are less likely to develop colds and that strong social ties can promote brain health as we get older. Indeed, having someone we can look to makes a world of a difference.

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